The Times West Virginian

February 6, 2013

Visits sure to make days for veteran patients a little bit brighter

Times West Virginian

— Countless people across the nation will take time this week to spread a little cheer to veterans in their area as part of the National Salute to Veteran Patients Week.

In our region, those people will be visiting patients at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, where they’ll have T-shirts and socks, Valentine’s Day cards and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of gratitude to share with the men and women who selflessly served this nation.

It’s no surprise the program is popular in West Virginia. With thousands of veterans in the state, we have plenty of brave men and women to thank on a daily basis.

That falls right in line with the purpose of the program, which, according to its website, is to pay tribute and express appreciation to veterans; increase community awareness of the role of the VA medical center; and encourage citizens to visit hospitalized veterans and to become involved as volunteers.

The program takes place this week, and is a special tribute to the more than 98,000 veterans of the U.S. armed services who are cared for every day in VA medical centers, outpatient clinics and nursing homes.

Established in 1978 and popularized by advice columnist Ann Landers, who encouraged her readers to send Valentine’s Day cards to veterans in hospitals, the National Salute to Veteran Patients Week will be filled with various groups dropping by the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center, said Thomas J. Gallagher, chief of voluntary service.

Gallagher said the calendar “always fills up” with groups wanting to honor the veterans, and various groups are scheduled to visit the VA medical center this week, including members of the West Virginia Order of the Eastern Star, the Liberty High School jazz band and choir, and the West Virginia University Mountaineer mascot.

In the past, groups have also come in and set up bingo games, and school classes have sent in Valentines. Gallagher said 5,000 Valentines were received last year to be distributed to the patients.

It might seem like a small gesture, but even a single Valentine can mean a great deal to a veteran, and many of the individuals who visit the VA medical centers this week will witness that firsthand.

“We take things like T-shirts and socks and toiletry articles, that sort of thing,” explained Art Malcolm, a member of the West Virginia Order of the Eastern Star. “That’s the reason we visit and pass those out. They all seem to appreciate it when we come by and say hello. They really thank us for that.

“We like to go through and visit each patient and give them these little gifts and just talk to them and try to thank them for their service and cheer them up,” he added.

It’s a gesture of kindness and gratitude that goes a long way in making the veterans’ day just a little bit brighter. And after all they’ve done for us, isn’t that the least we can do for them?